Maiden FIA WEC podium with BMW and Team WRT for Oman's Al Harthy

Sports Monday 22/April/2024 13:43 PM
By: Times News Service
Maiden FIA WEC podium with BMW and Team WRT for Oman's Al Harthy

Ahmad Al Harthy produced an outstanding performance during the opening two hours of the second race of the FIA World Endurance Championship season on Sunday, 21st April, to lay the foundations for an excellent runner-up finish in LMGT3 – the Omani’s deserved first podium of 2024.

Showcasing great pace throughout and driving a faultless first third of the 6 Hours of Imola, Al Harthy ensured the No.46BMW M4 GT3 was squarely in the fight for a famous first victory of the year, and the squad’s challenge went all the way to the closing stages of the terrific action in Italy.

All set for a grandstand finish, team-mate Maxime Martin battled the sister No.31 Team WRT car for supremacy during the final couple of hours with both BMWs staying on slick Goodyear tyres as rain showers arrived.

The great call to do so by Team WRT ensured a famous one-two result, an unfortunate drive-through penalty late on – linked to a Full Course Yellow period – meaning it was the No.46 trio who ended up in second place at the flag. Martin was little more than 20 seconds adrift of the No.31 at the finish, having lost more than half a minute with the penalty.

Packed Imola grandstands cheer-on Al Harthy, Martin and Rossi to P2

Determined to mount a sustained podium challenge this weekend, Al Harthy made those hopes an absolute reality after qualifying an excellent third on the LMGT3 grid and he was tasked with driving the first couple of hours of the six-hour contest on Sunday in front of almost 74,000 spectators.

Making a great start to the race, the Omani was able to quickly move into second in class close behind the No.92 Porsche 911 out of Turn One – thankfully avoiding lap one chaos which brought out the Safety Car.

When the action resumed, Al Harthy settled into his rhythm and around 30 minutes into the contest he was within just two seconds of the class lead. At the conclusion of the first hour the BMW racer maintained second place, only 1.6 seconds shy of the Porsche, with a fastest lap at that point only 0.4 seconds shy of the LMGT3 pace.

During his second hour of driving after the initial round of pit-stops, Al Harthy – who is supported by key partners OQ, Oman Ministry of Culture, Sports and Youth, Omantel and BMW Oman – was every bit as competitive and ensured the No.46 BMW stayed in contention for the win. 

Home hero Rossi took over from Al Harthy at the second pit-stop and when the order settled the Italian was third but glued to the No.55 Ferrari. Soon moving back up to second, Rossi was little more than 10 seconds shy of the lead as the race hit mid-distance and during his second stint he started to come under pressure from the sister Team WRT car – allowing the leader to pull clear.

With just under two hours to run Martin climbed into the driving seat and he was able to take the lead of LMGT3, before slipping back to second in class behind the No.31 Team WRT car as they expertly diced on slicks in among the rain showers which had arrived over Imola.

As the sixth and final hour began, Martin was 8.3 seconds behind the sister BMW and with just 35 minutes to go he was almost attached to its bumper. Hopes of victory, though, were dashed in the last half hour when Martin had to make an unscheduled pit-stop for the penalty. Ultimately finishing the race in a richly deserved second position, the No.46 car was less than 23 seconds shy of victory.

Ahmad Al Harthy:

“What an unbelievable race! Where can I begin? I had a perfect start to be honest, there was an incident into Turn One and I was in the right place so managed to move up from P3 to P2. We kept pushing for the entire one hour and 45 minutes in the car, we maximised everything we could to increase the distance between me and third, and try and keep first as close as possible.

“What a job by the team, they made unbelievable calls. Valentino and Maxime both did amazing in the car, and obviously the pit-stops were smooth – and then the rain came down! We were the only LMGT3 cars to stay out on slicks throughout, it was a huge call by the team and it was the right call as well to take a BMW one-two and with us on the podium for the first time this season.

“Thank you so much to everyone for their incredible support, all of our sponsors, family and fans back home in Oman. It’s an amazing feeling to have my first podium with WRT and BMW in FIA WEC and hopefully this will push us on to more great results.”

There is now a three week break from race action for Al Harthy with round three of the FIA World Endurance Championship taking place on Saturday, 11th May, at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium.

FIA World Endurance Championship LMGT3 Driver Standings (after Rd2)

4th Ahmad Al Harthy / Maxime Martin / Valentino Rossi, 36pts